Chapter Thirty-seven: Reminiscence

Naruto slowly opened his eyes and took stock of his surroundings. A bright light shined gold upon the area, which radiated a reassuring warmth. It couldn't have been more different from the shared realm the blonde had been within when he'd conversed with his fellow jinchuriki and the other Tailed Beasts.

Back then, there had been shadows all around them, with poor lighting only accentuating their dark effects. Perhaps the difference could be accounted for by the presence of a single Tailed Beast?

No, that was doubtful. The seal wasn't present and Naruto couldn't detect the Kyuubi's unique... aura... anywhere in the vicinity.

"Hey, Kyuubi! Are you there, furball?" Naruto called out. The expanse of gold must have been similar to a flat plain, for his voice didn't echo at all.

He did receive a response, however. A feminine giggle from behind informed Naruto that he wasn't entirely alone and he whirled around, falling into a defensive stance as a precaution. The Kyuubi definitely did not have a feminine voice.

"You're a bit jumpy, aren't you?" the person joked.

Naruto slowly relaxed upon seeing the newcomer, who had the most mesmerizing red hair he had ever seen. In fact, the woman herself was extremely familiar in her entirety. Tresses that red, skin that pale, and an inviting, pleasing smile reminded Naruto of a certain photograph.

There was no way the being in front of him was who he thought she was. She wasn't supposed to be alive, breathing as calmly as she was!

Rather than do what his heart ached to do, Naruto clenched his hands and asked, "Who are you?"

The woman's smile widened and she chuckled lightly. "What, don't you recognize me? I'm sure Ero-sennin or the Old Man would've said something by now." She lowered her arms and continued to smile, her eyes shining with warm adoration. "Actually, I think they already have. Kakashi-kun already did, didn't he?"

Although his posture had relaxed, Naruto's eyes remained wary. Such a sight could not be true. The image he was being graced by had to have been a mirage or an illusion of some sort. Had Utakata placed him under some sort of advanced genjutsu?

That begged the question of how Naruto's enemy jinchuriki knew the identity of his parents though, and the blonde doubted the Sandaime Hokage had been liberal with that information. A more plausible explanation was that Orochimaru had spies who had ferreted out the truth.

"Whatever you're doing, Utakata, I'm not falling for it!" Naruto cried. He placed his hands together and yelled out, "Release!"

Nothing happened. The pulse of chakra Naruto had generated did nothing. The expanse around him didn't even ripple. In contrast, it seemed to glitter in amusement much like the woman's eyes.

Finally, Naruto's stony expression cracked, and his heart wrenched painfully. "This... this is real?" he whispered disbelievingly, taking an involuntary step forward.

"It's been almost sixteen years since I've laid eyes on you, ya know?" the woman said, gazing at him with gentle eyes and smiling invitingly. "The last time I saw you, you were so small!"

And then Naruto pushed himself towards the woman with all of the strength he could muster, all reservations and restraint vanishing. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he wrapped his arms around his mother, the one he had never known nor felt the loving embrace of.

His mother returned his affections, feeling much like he was at that very moment. She allowed him a few seconds to dry his tears when he pulled away, hastily wiping at her own eyes as well.

Naruto sniffed one final time and then gleefully laughed, sounding much like a child Uzumaki Kushina should have been alive to raise. "I... I can't believe this, you know? This is like... like... a dream come true!" the blonde excitedly exclaimed.

"Well, I was a sealing expert back in the day," Kushina boasted. Her smile fell a little at her proclamation and she frowned, biting her lip in worry.

"Eh? What's wrong... mom?" Naruto's countenance seemed to grow more and more pleased. "Is there anything wrong, mom?"

Kushina's eyes were suddenly downcast and she cleared her throat nervously. "I suppose I should be apologizing to you, Naruto. As much as your father begged me to do so, I can't lie to my only child."

"I don't get it," the blonde replied, tilting his head in a way Kushina considered adorable.

Still not meeting her son's eyes, the redhead said, "Don't you know who sealed the Kyuubi into your body?"

"Dad did, didn't he?"

Kushina raised her head in surprise, furrowing her brow at Naruto's statement. "No, that's actually not true. Your father sealed the Kyuubi away, yes, but not all of it. Minato took half of the Kyuubi's chakra with him to his grave and left you with the remaining half. That remaining half was sealed by me," she explained.

"Uh..." Naruto blinked and scratched his head, his eyes squinting thoughtfully. "Everyone was told that dad was the one who stopped the Kyuubi and the one who sealed the furball into my gut..."

"I guess the truth of what happened that night was never unraveled," Kushina gravely remarked. An apologetic smile formed upon her lips, and she added, "For what little it's worth, I'm sorry, Naruto. I'm sorry for sealing the Kyuubi into you and leaving you all alone. I hope that, in time, you can find it in your heart to forgive me."

Naruto shook his head at her and smiled wryly. "I forgave you and dad a while ago. I'm honestly just happy about... this." The blonde gestured towards Kushina and himself. "How did you do this? How is this possible? It really is like a dream come true."

Instead of answering Naruto's question, Kushina leaned forward and embraced her son again. How lucky she was to have such a forgiving, earnest child! Part of her was immensely amazed at how Naruto had turned out. Whatever glimpses she had gleaned from Naruto's life had shown her how difficult a time he had had growing up.

After dabbing at her eyes again, Kushina replied, "Like I've mentioned, I was a sealing expert. Did you know I taught your father a thing or two at sealing? No one ever knew the great Yondaime Hokage's wife was a fair bit better than him at the sealing arts!"

Unable to help himself, Naruto giggled. He loved everything about his mother even more now that he was speaking to her in person. All of her physical traits were more defined and her voice, her touch, her care were many times better than he had imagined them. Truly, a mother's touch was something amazing, something he had always yearned to feel.

"Ehehe... I hope I inherited something like that from you," Naruto said. "Jiraiya-sensei's been teaching me seals. Progress is kinda slow." He paused and then grinned. "Oh, oh! I actually inherited your chakra chains!" The blonde pumped his fist.

"I wish I could've taught you a bit about seals... but you got my chakra chains?" Kushina asked. "You and I are definitely one of a kind, then! I really should've been there to teach you about those, though..." She trailed off and gave her only child a forlorn look. He waved her off, saying that he was happy enough meeting her in person.

"Anyway, this meeting was set to occur if and only if your seal was compromised. It was triggered when that young man tried to unleash the Kyuubi. Your father wanted to appear in my place so that he could take all of the blame for what had happened. We were both already on death's door at the time and I couldn't allow him to condemn himself to you.

"He really did want to meet you, Naruto. I'm sure Minato would have been proud of the man you've become, of all that you've done for Konoha and for those you hold close to your heart," Kushina continued.

"Stop it, mom," Naruto whined. "I'm not that great..."

"Every parent thinks their child is great!" Kushina chirped. She reached forward and pinched Naruto's reddened cheeks. "And believe me, you really are amazing, Naruto- and cute, too."

Naruto rubbed his blushing face for a moment before tilting his head. "You still haven't told me how you got in here, mom. What happened when the Kyuubi attacked Konoha? That old fox never wanted to tell me what really went down." The blonde shrugged.

"Yes, I still need to tell you what happened that night. The story itself is a bit long though, so you might want to settle down for a bit. First of all, you already know what happens when a female jinchuriki is pregnant, right? I had to give birth in secret, with your father making sure the Kyuubi didn't escape the entire time. It was a stressful ordeal, to be honest," the redhead truthfully remarked.

"I can maybe, uh, kinda understand that," Naruto admitted, not quite sounding sure of himself. Kushina snickered at him and then laughed when her son pouted at her.

"Well, I won't let you in on any of the really painful details." Kushina chortled as her son grimaced. "In the end, the Sandaime Hokage's wife, Sarutobi Biwako, was ready to hand you over to your father when we were attacked."

"Attacked?" Naruto exclaimed, eyes narrowing. Konoha had many enemies, yes, but Naruto didn't really think anyone could go toe to toe with the Yondaime Hokage. Who had been powerful enough to do so?

Kushina nodded seriously. "I was still out of it when your father confronted the perpetrator. Someone somehow figured out my delivery date and attacked when I was at my most vulnerable. You were used as a hostage to get your father away from me, which is when the Kyuubi was forcefully released from my seal..."


(October Tenth, Years Ago)

It was a pleasant evening. The night was warm and many people were simply lounging about. A few ninja were goofing off, telling each other stories or boasting about whatever imaginary awards they had received. Every now and then, a few ANBU flitted from rooftop to rooftop.

To many people, civilian and ninja alike, there was no indication that anything was going to go wrong that night. Little did they know that their lives were about to change when a nobody, who was wearing an odd mask, rose up from the ground, ignoring any and all physical resistance.

A triumphant "Summoning Technique!" shattered the peace and the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox exploded into existence, showing the world just why it was labeled the greatest of the nine Tailed Beasts. Its massive size flattened its immediate vicinity and it roared its rage to the ninja village.

Then, the fox turned to face the Hokage Monument. Particles of chakra coalesced into a ball right in front of its mouth before it unleashed a Tailed Beast Bomb. A stream of destruction followed the obscenely large orb as it carved its way through buildings and people alike, up until it impacted the monument.

However, instead of exploding in a massive conglomeration of light and fire, the large mountain seemed to absorb the attack. The explosion appeared in the distance, causing a few of the more perceptive ninja to realize what had occurred.

The Yondaime Hokage, despite his attempt to lure the fox towards him, was forced to battle the threat behind the entire attack. As he rose to his feet and clenched his hand over one of his special kunai, Namikaze Minato took the time to ask, "Are you Uchiha Madara? No, you can't be... he's been dead for too long."

No matter how outlandish Minato's initial reaction seemed, no one else in recorded history had shown the ability to control the Kyuubi. Who else could the attacker be?

If the offender really was Uchiha Madara, then Minato would have to figure out how the man had survived for so long. Those thoughts weren't necessary at the moment, though. For now, the Hokage had to stop the Masked Man from forcing the Kyuubi to cause too much unnecessary loss of life.

"I don't know about that," the man demurred, the chain connected to his wrists jangling as he shrugged his shoulders.

Minato narrowed his eyes. "Never mind who you are, then. Why have you attacked Konoha?"

"It's fun." The Masked Man chortled and pulled down his hood, revealing Uchiha-black, spiked hair. "To be frank, this is the first step in my plan to bring peace to this decrepit world."

The Yondaime Hokage inwardly scoffed; he was going to have to kill this man. His intentions were hostile and his apparent plan was full of delusion. There was no way Minato was going to let him survive, especially since the man had the ability to control the Kyuubi.

"No response? Oh well... it doesn't matter too much. Konoha will fall today!" With that proclamation, the Masked Man charged at Minato, who mirrored the man's attack.

When they met, their 'clash' was anything but. Minato fell through the man like he was made up of air. The Masked Man's chain was tangible however and Minato had to use his Flying Thunder God technique to teleport away from danger once he was caught in the unorthodox weapon's hold.

The Yondaime Hokage reappeared a short distance away, his white cloak fluttering slightly. He thought quickly, coming up with three objectives to achieve in the battle.

The first was to remove the Masked Man's hold over the Kyuubi. The second was to still the man's mobility, and the third was to end his life or reduce his threat level in some way. From what he had seen so far, Minato surmised that any physical attacks would give him the lowest chance of success.

And that was without taking the man's single Sharingan into account. If the Masked Man really was Uchiha Madara, then he had years upon years of experience with taijutsu, and Minato wasn't really willing to put up with that.

History had never mentioned Madara having any skill with seals and most ninja knew little to nothing about how to handle them.

Minato rose and held one of his special, three-pronged kunai in front of him. When the two elite ninja charged at each other again, Konoha's Yellow Flash discreetly retrieved another kunai from a pocket on his cloak and dropped it. The first kunai was thrown at the man's mask, where it phased through without dealing any damage.

As soon as Minato felt the man's touch, he vanished and re-materialized behind his enemy. A feather-light touch transferred a contract seal that ended the Masked Man's control over the Kyuubi.

"Hmph," the man scoffed. "Is this all you have to offer, Minato? Perhaps I would've been better off witnessing Konoha's destruction first-hand. It certainly would've been more entertaining."

There was a flash and Minato appeared at the Masked Man's flank, a Rasengan forming in one hand. The spiraling blue orb went through the Masked Man's body, which was when he tried to grab the blonde Hokage.

Minato smirked when his opponent screamed in pain. A loud, cacophonous bang sounded and the Masked Man was blown backward, half of his body smoking.

"Ugh... I shouldn't have underestimated you," the man gruffly remarked. Much to Minato's shock, the man's right arm detached from the rest of his body, falling onto the ground and turning into a puddle of some white substance. "Dropping your first kunai, transporting to this one and then back when in dan- what!?"

Another flash revealed that Minato had teleported in front of his foe and had placed another seal on the man's chest. To Minato, the battle was effectively over.

"A contract- No, no! What have you done!?" the man screamed. He stumbled away and Minato saw that the man's Sharingan had faded to reveal onyx-black eyes. "You... you...!"

"This battle is over," Minato declared. He raised a hand and created a shadow clone. "Watch him. Make sure no one else interferes, no matter who it is. I don't know if he has an accomplice, but there was no way he figured out Kushina's due date on his own."

Minato vanished from sight, unable to hear the Masked Man's infuriated screams. He would stand trial for what he had done. The Yondaime Hokage wasn't the only one who would want to see the Masked Man suffer. Konoha's citizens would need a target for their stress.

The Masked Man kept howling in anger. With his chakra sealed away, his threat level had been completely nullified. The shadow clone Minato had summoned was more than enough to keep him at bay.

"You... you...! What have you done? I'll destroy everything you've ever loved! You think this changes any of my plans, you filthy hypocrite!?" the man bellowed, directing his rage at the clone who was steadfastly watching him.

"Whatever your wishes are is irrelevant. You are a murderer and you will stand trial here in Konoha. We will see who is hiding underneath that mask and you will bear the burden of our hatred," the clone stoically replied. "I would take that mask off of your face and kill you myself, but, as Hokage, I don't believe I can afford to be that selfish."

The Yondaime wouldn't want to deprive others of their chance to find out who the cause of their suffering was.

The Masked Man laughed sardonically. "It isn't? Right, you believe in leaving allies and comrades behind, leaving them to rot in the battlefields Konoha creates!" He pointed at the clone and continued, "You and Konoha have paid the price, and once I get out of this forsaken place, so will the other nations! Only I will be the one to end their endless, pointless squabbling! The Tailed Beasts will all be mine to command, including the Kyuubi!"

"What are you talking about? The villages are at peace. Konoha was at peace. You disrupt that peace and you claim you will be the one to bring it back? Murderers do not get away with simple apologies. There is a price to be paid, as you have claimed."

Gloved fingers scrabbled at the edges of a patterned mask and with a violent pull, the durable piece of material was thrown off. An ugly and scarred face contorted in fury and screamed in frustration. The clone jerked back as if burned.

"So you see me now, sensei? Uchiha Obito, dead-last of the academy, of the Uchiha Clan, of everything! You told me we would always be a team! And for what? To leave me behind? To leave me buried underneath a damned mountain!?" the man- no, teenager- gibbered in helpless anguish, knowing that he was unable to escape the situation he found himself in.

Tears were beginning to run down the teenaged Uchiha's face. "You left me there! Dying, with half my body crushed and turned into a bloody mess!" He laughed bitterly, shoulders shaking. "But, but, someone found me. He turned me into this... and then when I try to return, Kakashi has the nerve to let Rin die! Why? Why, why, why!?"

"Obito... we did come back for the body," Minato somberly murmured. "We did, and we found nothing. No body, no remains... That ability of yours must have ruined our chances."

The clone did not have any pity or remorse towards his former student. Those thoughts had vanished earlier. Had the teenager not done what he had done, then there might have been hope for him. As it stood, Minato's former student would lie in the hands of Konoha's governing body.

He watched Obito sob into the night air until a particularly loud explosion sounded in the distane. In his distraction, Obito had picked up his mask, replaced it, and growled loudly, like a feral beast. "I won't be stopped here," he snarled. "Kamui!"

Nothing happened. "Your chakra is sealed off," the clone noted. "Don't struggle, Obito. Face the consequences of your actions."

"I refuse to accept this reality!" There was a sound that resembled glass breaking, and the clone felt distinctly unnerved all of a sudden. "Izanagi!"


(With Naruto and Kushina)

"He escaped?" Naruto bit out.

"No," Kushina replied, shaking her head. "Minato's clone managed to hurt the Masked Man before being sucked into that eye of his. There wasn't much time for your father to tell me everything, I'm afraid."

"So dad got the Kyuubi out of Konoha and took you and I out from that safe house. What happened after that? Was that when you sealed the fox into me?" the blonde questioned. "Who was the Masked Man to begin with?"

"You're asking too many questions at once, Naruto," Kushina said, grinning when Naruto chuckled sheepishly. "Before he died, Minato told me the identity of the Masked Man, and how he wished for it to remain secret. I don't think he should've done so, but that was how it turned out, and I decided to honor his wishes. Unfortunately, the only definitive scapegoat Konoha had left was you."

"Ah, I don't mind as long as the bad guy was beaten. You've really gotta tell me what happens next, mom!" Naruto begged, his eyes wide and eager.

"Well, Minato had taken you and I far from Konoha, along with the Kyuubi. He planned on using a special type of seal that had originally been developed by the Uzumaki Clan. It was known as the Dead Demon Consuming Seal and its use, while able to create a powerful seal, resulted in the user's life being ripped away," Kushina explained.

When the Kyuubi was being sealed, part of her had wished that she had never taught Minato the technique. Then Kushina could've resealed the Kyuubi into her own body and dragged it to her grave. Its demise wouldn't have lasted long, but at the very least Naruto would've been able to grow up with a father, without being all alone in the world.

"The entire Kyuubi was too large to seal away at once, especially into a baby. Minato's solution was to cut the Kyuubi in two. He sealed its Yin Half into himself and was going to seal the Kyuubi's Yang Half into you. However, that was when the Masked Man returned. He was furious, far angrier than how he was at first, which was probably why he was so much easier to deal with," Kushina continued.

"Since Minato had already begun the ritual and had already sealed half of the Kyuubi into his body, he was forced to use his remaining chakra to seal away the Masked Man once and for all. His dying words were an explanation and a plea to condemn him. Since I was slowly dying too, I used the same seal he did, locking away the Kyuubi's Yang Half into your body, as well as a portion of my own chakra," Kushina quietly finished.

Naruto was thoughtful. He now had the truth behind the events that had occurred on the day of his birth. Oddly enough, he felt strangely detached from what had happened.

For some reason, he couldn't hate the Masked Man for what he had done. The ramifications had haunted him all his life, yet Naruto couldn't pour all of his hatred and malice onto the enigma that was the Masked Man.

Perhaps it was due to the blonde never meeting the man or experiencing the chaos of the Kyuubi's attack.

"You can't hate him, can you?" Kushina asked. Naruto shook his head and his mom said, "I thought so. People may say they hate others, but it's difficult to feel such a strong emotion towards an invisible foe."

"I guess that's why it was so easy for people to treat me the way they did in Konoha," Naruto figured in a flash of insight.

"Nonetheless, you got over that, didn't you?" Kushina chimed, reaching over and ruffling her son's hair. As she did so, her skin gleamed unnaturally. "Our time together is running out, Naruto..."

"Already?" Naruto murmured.

"We can't stay in here for too long, remember? Your friends are waiting for you outside," the redhead reminded. Her tone was slightly melancholic.

Naruto's expression fell and he looked away. "Sasuke's dead," he bluntly stated. "No one can survive what Utakata did to him. I'm still pretty freaking pissed right now and controlling the Kyuubi's chakra when I'm angry is practically impossible. I won't be able to restrain myself and I don't want to harm my friends."

"If you don't go back to your body in the first place, then who's going to stop you? Who's going to stop Utakata?"

The blonde paused. "I've been told that accepting myself will allow me to control a Tailed Beast's chakra without going crazy. I don't really know how to do that, though," Naruto bitterly responded. "I've done different things to try and solve the issue. I'm not going to give up anytime soon, but I need to be able to harness the furball's chakra without running the risk of hurting my allies."

Kushina's skin gleamed again. She leaned forward, holding her son close. Both mother and son indulged themselves in each other's presence, something they wouldn't be able to feel for years afterward. Naruto felt it unfair to have known a mother's touch and to then have it torn away from him so soon.

"I know you can figure it out, Naruto," Kushina encouraged. "Mito-sama and I both lived happy lives. Minato and I even had you, our own little, orange ray of sunshine! If anyone can can solve this problem, it's you."

Naruto laughed. "It has to be me anyway, mom." The two moved away and Kushina grabbed one of her son's hands, running her thumb over the back of his palm. "I really wish we could've spent more time together," the blonde said.

His mother stopped rubbing his hand and placed it over his chest, right where his heart was still beating. A gentle smile graced her expression, and she reassuringly said, "Remember that your father and I will always love you, and that we'll always be with you. Ya know, Minato wouldn't stop going on and on about being a father. He really was excited to meet you.

"Don't forget about Kakashi-kun and... Jiraiya-sama... too. They treasure their bonds and yours is one they will keep for life. I know, I may sound like I'm reciting lines from a corny book, or maybe a movie, but it is true. Always know that there are people who accept you, no matter who you are, and that jinchuriki can live happy, fulfilling lives."

Naruto rapidly blinked away his tears, smiling widely and feeling a satisfied calm fall over him. He gasped when small pin-pricks of light rose up from his mother's glowing skin, signaling that their time was coming to an end.

"There's so much more I want to tell you... I love you so much..." Kushina whispered.

She wanted to instruct Naruto, be there when he skinned his knee, and watch over him as he became a splendid shinobi.

She wanted to see Naruto fall for his crush and, perhaps, see it become something more.

She wanted to see her son marry the woman of his dreams and see how he'd react to his first child.

There was so much she had wanted to do...

Kushina began to fade and disappear, tears running down her face as she tried to give her son one last, loving hug. Right before Naruto's eyes, his mother vanished, finally leaving the world of the living and heading to the land of the dead.

And then, the golden expanse around him shattered. It cracked and fell apart, revealing the dreary, wet cage that represented Naruto's seal. The Kyuubi was in the middle of a giant yawn, its tails lazily weaving through the air.

"Took you long enough," the great fox rumbled after closing its maw.

"...Yeah," Naruto finally replied, dazed from the extended meeting he'd just had. His heart was thumping rapidly and a pleasant flush throbbed throughout his body.

Taking on Utakata and controlling the Kyuubi's intense power didn't seem so difficult now.

"Are you ready to return?" the Kyuubi asked. "I will attempt to aid you. Be cautious, for your body- as well as that other jinchuriki- have not been stationary. In addition, another human is participating in your battle."

"What!?" Naruto cried. "This is dangerous! Do you know who it is?"

"The loudmouthed girl attempted to aid you and ultimately ended up failing to do anything noteworthy. The Nanabi's jinchuriki descended from the skies in her place," the fox informed.

"Fuu's here? Then that means the battle should almost be over..." the blonde murmured, glancing down at the watery cell floor. "All right. Let's get out of here, Kyuubi. Let's end this fight. I refuse to let Sasuke's death be in vain!"

The Kyuubi stared at his container, who was staring right back with a confident, determined gaze. A threatening, toothy grin appeared on the fox's visage. "How pleasing. Your attitude has changed, brat," it noted.

Naruto grinned. "I'm ready, Kyuubi. No more losing myself, no more harming others." Uzumaki Kushina- his mother- had faith in him. How could he fail?

The fox's frightening grin only widened, rows of sharp teeth gleaming in the dim lighting around them.



Utakata flinched away from Naruto's burning red chakra cloak as if struck. The others had fanned out around the two fighting jinchuriki, though they remained a respectable distance away.

No one wanted to get hit with whatever destructive power the two jinchuriki were using. Yet, they were reluctant to leave their friend alone in his battle.

"Impossible," Utakata growled, displeasure evident in his eerie, white eyes. Ignoring the other pests surrounding him, Utakata focused on Naruto, watching as he roared loudly and reoriented himself.

Based on the way he was acting, Utakata assumed Naruto was still locked away in his own mind, able only to act on instinct. The plan can still be salvaged, the former Kiri-nin thought. Animals were unpredictable at times, yet also easier to deal with. They didn't have the rational state of mind humans did.

Utakata felt that the situation hadn't plummeted too far yet. Konoha could still lose their jinchuriki and, therefore, a large portion of their military might.

Naruto- who looked very much like a miniature Kyuubi- bounded forward, claws slashing at Utakata's throat. The Kiri-nin ducked, watching as the claws made contact with the ground. Invisible blades of wind rocketed out from Naruto's nails, eviscerating the soil and turning a nearby building into sawdust.

Taking advantage of their positioning, Utakata's body thinned and lengthened, allowing him to coil around Naruto's body. Gotcha, he thought smugly. Despite the tight hold Utakata had Naruto in, the mindless jinchuriki thrashed about, his tails easily carving deep trenches into their surroundings.

A rope made up of water wrapped around the former Kiri-nin's torso, preventing him from dashing forward and engaging Naruto. Electricity coursed through it and, although Utakata felt an ounce of pain, the attack was ultimately useless. With a casual swing from one of his chakra tails, the whip dispersed.

However, it did allow Naruto to punch Utakata away. Growling in annoyance, the Rokubi jinchuriki turned and prepared himself to rip the other Konoha-nin into shreds.

"We won't let you hurt anyone else!" Sakura exclaimed. Another watery whip formed around her right wrist. "Guys, back me up! Don't let him move!"

Kiba and Akamaru landed next to the pink-haired kunoichi. "Much as I'd love breaking this guy's bones," the Inuzuka grouched, "it's too dangerous to attack head-on! Not when Naruto's raging like that!"

Sakura's puffy, red eyes glistened. "I'm not going to leave Naruto alone!"

"I believe that in this case," Shino interjected, taking a position next to his comrades, "it is unnecessary to throw ourselves at a much more lethal foe. My allies have determined that the Takigakure contingent is on their way, as is their strongest ninja. Prepare yourselves."

"Wait, you mean-"

A green blur slammed into Utakata's body, sending he and the attacker careening away from the Konoha-nin. The two collided into a nearby house, breaking through a wooden wall and causing the roof to collapse down on top of them.

"Yes," Shino droned, "reinforcements are here." He glanced back at Naruto's churning, crimson body. "Why is Naruto not acting?"

"I think you spoke too soon," Kiba gruffly remarked. He, Akamaru, and his two comrades backed away when Naruto ambled forward and released another earth-shattering roar. Kiba and Akamaru groaned at the volume.

"We should move to a safer distance," Shino noted, hopping backward and giving Naruto some more space. His friends followed, joining Hinata where she had been attempting to do something to possibly save or prolong Sasuke's life.

Hinata wiped her eyes, deactivating her Byakugan and shaking her head when the four approached. "I-It's no use," she whispered.

The green blur was punted out of the debris of the collapsed house, bouncing violently several times on the hard, earthen ground before righting itself and resuming flight. Now the Konoha-nin were able to discern the blur's physical characteristics and they found relief in seeing a familiar face.

Fuu fluttered closer to Naruto, though she remained on guard. Her attention was mostly focused on Utakata, who was pulling himself out of the destroyed home.

"You guys should get out of here!" Fuu yelled, a stinger-like tail of chakra extending below her.

"I'm not going to leave Naruto!" Sakura screamed back.

Naruto let out a warbling, moaning groan. An orb of black and blue chakra was coming together in front of his distended jaw, steadily growing larger and larger until it was the size of a human skull.

Fuu's eyes widened and she flew towards the Konoha-nin. "Brace yourselves," she hissed, landing and implanting her chakra tail into the ground.

"Is that how you want to play?" Utakata rumbled. His own tails burrowed into the ground.

The ball of chakra was quickly compressed. Pressure began to bear down on his surroundings, causing the Konoha-nin- and Fuu- to fall to a knee. Naruto's jaws widened and closed around the chakra he had expelled from his body.

Naruto's body expanded to an almost grotesque size and the oppression pressing down upon the area intensified. However, the jinchuriki's eyes blinked suddenly, and gazed up. His jaws opened and what seemed to be a second sun, rendering the sky alight, blinded every ninja fighting in Senpuku.

The jinchuriki looked back down, gazing at his body in wonder. He could still detect the unearthly power that was the Kyuubi's chakra, yet the malignant hatred that had sprouted from his very being whenever he had previously used the cloak wasn't present in its entirety.

"What an odd feeling," the jinchuriki intoned, his voice warped and guttural.

"Naruto-kun, watch out!" Hinata cried, having recovered from the backlash of the immensely powerful attack the raging blonde had fired into the sky. Hinata didn't know if Naruto was all there in the head to hear or understand her, but her Byakugan was active and she could see Utakata's tails digging through the soil, heading towards his enemy's position.

Much to her surprise, Naruto's own tails covered the front of his body, shielding him from the dark-blue chakra tails Utakata was attacking with. The Rokubi's chakra couldn't burn the defenses away, granting Naruto an opening.

The others gawked at their friend as he grabbed the chakra tails poking out from the soil and ripped them out, tearing up the ground in the process and launching Utakata into the air. Naruto shot his chakra limbs into the air, though Utakata batted them away.

"This is over," the Kyuubi jinchuriki declared. Numerous blue chains burst out from his chest, enough to overwhelm and entangle the former Kiri-nin's body. More and more chains exited Naruto's body, some entering the ground and some rising above him, like a series of angry snakes.

"How are you doing this? None of these techniques should be possible!" Utakata exclaimed, struggling against his bindings.

The red chakra covering Naruto's body receded, slithering into a position on Naruto's outstretched right hand. A seal on his palm briefly glowed, dispelling his claws, and the chains above bore down on the Rasengan forming above it.

"These chains are tough," Naruto replied. "My mother gave them to me, you know. They might not have been used for this purpose if you hadn't done what you did. If my luck runs out in the future, this is going to bite me in the ass. Oh well; you certainly deserve what's coming to you." The blonde's tone was dark and his glare solemn.

Even Utakata's tails were pinned down. From what the others could see, their enemy was completely restricted. He was unable to move or attack- or so his enemies thought. A jinchuriki's capabilities were usually unknown, and Utakata was no exception.

"Are you going to kill me?" Utakata asked, now sounding curious.

"I don't think I'm a good enough Samaritan to do otherwise," Naruto responded. Chakra chains wrapped around the arm holding the Rasengan, their barbed tips pushing harder and harder into the now-purple spinning sphere. "You know, my godfather mentioned that once started, the cycle of revenge never stops. I don't think anyone is going to want to get revenge for you, though. Orochimaru's forces never looked like they were too friendly."

Despite the chains wrapped around him, Utakata's dark-blue body began to bulge. His white eyes narrowed and he announced, "I can still damage Konoha's army. The Rokubi will gladly kill in my stead."

"According to the Kyuubi, that's not going to happen," Naruto shot back. The Rasengan in his hand was shrouded by the chains and the blonde's arm began to tremble from the force of the chakra roiling inside. "Somehow, you've suppressed the Rokubi's conscience. We're sorry to it in advance. Spiraling Sphere Cannon!"

"It won't be enough! Konoha's propaganda will never win!" Utakata screamed.

Reassured of his stability due to the several chakra chains anchoring him to the ground, Naruto proceeded to release his Rasengan variant. The end of the chains covering his arm, wrist, and hand opened up, unleashing the chaotic energy within.

A dark, murky, tightly compacted ball flew out of the mass of chains, spiraling through the air like a drill. Due to its velocity, it made contact with Utakata's rapidly deforming body in under a fraction of a second, ripping him away from the mass of chains pinning him to the ground.

Impressive as its speed was, the attack did not stop there. It kept moving, launching its victim into the distance, where it exploded brilliantly. The explosion's scope was quite large, incinerating several houses in a conflagration of red and yellow.

Naruto watched as the explosion's light died down, revealing a depression that had deep grooves carved into it. No body could be seen within- indeed, all there was to see was charred earth; not even debris remained.

"I do wish this could've been different, Utakata," Naruto muttered. "At least then we could've been friends or something."

Now, though, the Rokubi would reconstitute itself given time. It would be recaptured and resealed by whichever village it was nearest to. Perhaps Kiri would resume possession of the beast, or perhaps another village would manage to obtain it.

Or, maybe, it would roam free. Impossible as such a thing sounded, the possibility was there. If the Rokubi did end up being resealed, Naruto hoped it would find a suitable host, one that wouldn't allow its power to be misused.

And, when that happened, Naruto hoped that the new jinchuriki would be treated not as a pariah, but as a person.

All of the chains that had been connected to Naruto's body retracted, retreating into the tenketsu from which they had been created. Although he had looked fairly disturbing and wobbled a bit on his feet, for all intents and purposes, Naruto was fine. He could still serve and fight until the battle completely died down.

Sighing heavily, the blonde turned, seeing his friends stare at him with something akin to awe- with the exception of Fuu, who was tossing him a cheerful grin. Marveling at how he wasn't falling flat on his face, Naruto slowly walked up to his comrades.

"You idiot!" Sakura screamed, smacking Naruto on the back of his head. He winced at the light blow and then had the air knocked out of his lungs when his pink-haired teammate wrapped her arms tightly around his torso.

Damn, Sakura was strong.

"I'm... I'm so glad you're all right," she murmured, burying her face in the crook of his neck. Sakura noted with some amusement that her blonde teammate was taller than her now. "Please... please don't scare me like that again."

"Heh," Naruto said, relaxing, "don't worry about it, Sakura-chan. I'm too damn awesome to die and you know it."

Kiba guffawed and punched Naruto on the shoulder. "Nice going, dude! I can't believe my eyes! I guess you've really outdone yourself this time, eh?" Akamaru barked happily and licked Naruto's hand.

"We should hold off until the battle is finished." Shino adjusted his glasses and said, "Extraordinary as your victory is, our enemies may not have surrendered yet. They may have others lying in wait. It would be prudent of us to back up our allies. In addition..."

The Aburame didn't finish the sentence. A pointed look at the body of Uchiha Sasuke brought everyone's mood crashing down. His body had been dragged from the fighting and into a safer area. A shirt and vest lay discarded on the soil next to him, enabling the ninja to view the gaping wound Utakata's attack had caused.

"I tried my best," Hinata said, sounding downtrodden, "but it was... his heart was..."

"Hey," Naruto softly said, grasping Hinata's shoulders. "It's not your fault, Hinata. It was already too late the moment Utakata struck him. Sasuke knew what he was doing. He saved my life and I'll forever be in his debt. If anything, it's my fault."

"W-What? That's not true!" Hinata cried, her head snapping up.

Naruto chuckled, his electric-blue eyes meeting her watery ones. "Maybe if I had been more attentive this wouldn't have happened." He let go of Hinata's shoulders- much to her disappointment- and sighed. "I hope you're happy, you bastard. How are you supposed to one-up me now?"

Another ninja caught the attention of the Konoha-nin, all of which assumed battle-ready stances. The ninja, however, had Takigakure forehead protector, and was simply reporting in to Fuu, who was listening quietly. After a few words were exchanged, the shinobi bounded away.

"It's over; the majority of the Kusa-nin have surrendered. Those who haven't are being killed or captured," Fuu informed, turning to Naruto. "Um... I'm sorry about Uchiha Sasuke. I, uh, I'm not really good at this sort of thing. Great job with the Kyuubi's chakra, though!"

"Thanks," Naruto replied with a nod, cracking a lopsided grin. He hoped no one else was going to apologize to him though. Their apologies, in his opinion, should be given to Sasuke's family. They were the ones who were going to be grieving.

A tight knot formed in his stomach and Naruto swallowed thickly. Sasuke's family... what would they think? How would Mikoto-san take it? First Mikoto had received a crippling injury from an enemy who had escaped capture with their life intact, and now this.

He supposed he'd dwell on it when he had the chance. No use thinking about it when the damage had to be surveyed and the village secured. Briefly, he wondered where Jiraiya was...

Biting into his thumb hard enough to draw blood, Naruto flipped through a series of seals and slammed his hands into the ground. A puff of smoke signaled the arrival of a small, green toad. "Hey," the jinchuriki greeted. "Could you find Jiraiya-sensei for me? Tell him Utakata was killed."

The toad croaked and vanished, going off to wherever Jiraiya was.

A groan escaped Naruto's lips and he ran a hand through his unkempt, messy locks. The village had been devastated, many had lost their lives, and at the end of the day, the battle was supposed to be labeled a victory for Konoha.

Hopefully his other friends and comrades were okay.


A toad croaked several times to a irritated, angry sage who, having been on the receiving end of many similar messages in the past, easily deciphered what the toad was trying to tell him. "Good job," Jiraiya said. "Now, I have to spread a message of my own." The toad croaked and left back to Mount Myoboku.

Jiraiya examined the body of his sensei. The former Professor of Konoha was covered in dirt and grime, with puncture marks visible on his chest. A smile was imprinted on his face, one that defied Orochimaru's wishes of watching Sarutobi Hiruzen die like a dog.

The Sandaime Hokage had succumbed to his wounds when the huge flash had blinded the sky, content in his belief that Naruto would survive and emerge victorious.

Orochimaru had scoffed and denied the chance of Utakata ever failing, but Jiraiya had detected a tinge of unease in his old friend's voice. Takigakure's arrival likely exacerbated the traitor's worries.

Those worries of his were well-founded, Jiraiya thought. When Kusa's army began to surrender after realizing how outnumbered they were, Jiraiya took the time to find his sensei.

Unfortunately, he hadn't arrived quick enough. Instead, the hermit was able to watch Orochimaru gloat and growl until the flash blinded him, allowing the snake to escape.

Not even Orochimaru was willing to fight an army.

Turning his mind back to the present, Jiraiya wondered what Konoha was going to do now. Hiruzen had gambled on being able to end Orochimaru's life. Had Orochimaru not been available to remove, the Hokage's participation would've demoralized his enemies and spurred his shinobi onward.

Without the Sandaime's guidance, Konoha would be at a loss. Another Hokage- one that had the necessary wisdom- would need to be chosen.

Damn it. Jiraiya mentally groaned. I hope the daimyo forgets I exist.

I'm sorry about the delay, but I actually left to stay with some relatives after my semester ended. I was able to read a bit, leave reviews, and... not write at all. I'm back now though... right when school is starting up again. Ha.

Anyway, here's chapter thirty-seven. It's been a while since I've flexed those literary muscles of mine, so please tell me what you think. The scene with sealing the Kyuubi into Naruto was actually initially present in this chapter, but I realized that Tobi doesn't really have too much prominence in this story, so I deleted that portion since it was mimicking canon with a small twist. In addition, I'm not quite sure how to handle Tobi's characterization. Did I do okay?

Furthermore, I'm rather iffy on Utakata's death. I did intend for him to die eventually, but I feel as if his death was not as well-written as it could've been. Do you readers like it? Hate it? Have any other opinions regarding it?

I hope everyone had a great set of holidays! ...And I find myself using 'but' way too often here...

Read, review, and send me a PM if you have any questions, comments, concerns, etc.

EDIT 1/13/2014: Fixed a small continuity error